I was reading an article recently about  how important it was for sex education classes to include discussions about what factors are necessary for a healthy relationship as well as what how to recognize things were sign of an unhealthy relationship. httsps://www.salon.com/2019/03/28/what-every-teen-needs-to-know-about-healthy-and-unhealthy-relationships/?fbclid=IwAR3WcBTot5svLI0KTZXfP0zyfIR2nuQU0lT2g_3rl8MGm0KxblmTEP1cEpg

This got  me to thinking that adults in serious relationships, as well as married folks, may also need to know the essentials of healthy relationships.   Unfortunately, too many folks are ignorant about the what healthy relationships need or what can be done if there is trouble.

If you wonder how healthy your intimate connection is, maybe it’s time for marital check-up.  In general, we all know that a good relationship involves high levels of trust and safety.  We also know that maturity, mutual respect and consideration are very important. What is not so clear is how these qualities can be nurtured and developed.   Here is a check-list of the vital elements which create satisfying and lasting marriages. Developing and practicing these fundamentals will help your relationship to thrive and grow and will also help you to spot trouble before it gets out of hand :

Secure Sense of Personal Identity — A personal sense of insecurity by one or both partners is a relationship killer.  Worrying about if one is inadequate leads to jealousy and irrational conflicts that  can destroy good connections .

Having Self-Awareness of Emotional Wounds and Distorted Reactions  — Everyone has experienced trauma and carries around the unhealed and unresolved scars from earlier in life. It is vital for each individual to understand the wounds and consequent attitudinal and behavioral distortions which have grown out them.  It is important to be able to take responsibility for one’s own irrational parts. Without this, awareness individuals are prone to blame and externalize responsibility for problems in the marriage.

Having Empathy —   Only when one is secure in one’s own self, is it possible for a person to understand and care about the experience of another and the impact of one’s behavior on one’s partner.  Empathy, or the ability to emotionally put one’s self in the other person’s shoes, is a fundamental element of successful marriages. In fact, getting beyond and outside of one’s own selfishness and  developing a COUPLE’S CONSCIOUSNESS, wherein the individual no longer regards him or herself as an autonomous entity but understands that s/he is part of a larger partnership, is a crucial developmental accomplishment which indicates that the marital bond has truly gelled and the attachment between the husband and wife is solid and stable.

Understanding and Realistic Expectations — In addition to individual mental health and self-awareness, successful marriages and relationships also need to have a realistic understanding how marriages work.  So many relational  problems are the result of ignorance and unrealistic expectations .  Partners need to know what is normal and not idealize human behavior or process.  For example, many are trapped in romantic myths that deny or criminalize normal things like anger and sexual attraction. As we will see below, the key to a wonderful marriage is not avoiding or denying normal human experience but knowing how to deal with challenges constructively.

Having Clear Boundaries and Impulse Control — Apart from understanding how relationships work, there needs to be both a clear awareness of  and respect for personal boundaries.  Likewise, each partner must have a demonstrated ability to stay within these boundaries and control out-of-bounds impulses when necessary.  Anger and impulses to become physically hostile  need to be constructively controlled and managed just as do inappropriate sexual urges.  It is important to understand that partners in good marriages may have violent or sexually adventuresome feelings but, that each is committed to controlling and dealing with those feelings in constructive and healthy ways.

Communication Skills —  Besides general understanding, there are some specific skills that are needed for marriages to flourish and thrive. Most people know that communication is very important but sometimes it is sort of a fuzzy awareness.  Knowing how to be direct and not abusive when expressing oneself to one’s partner is critical to keeping the lines of transmission open. Withdrawing on one hand or attacking on the other breaks the lines of communication and important information can not be shared. Learning assertiveness skills along with I-statement messaging can go a long way to improving a couple’s ability to share intimate information with each other.

Conflict Resolution Skills — Learning how to fight fairly and negotiate differences of opinions and needs is a fundamental skill for any lasting and happy marriage.  The extremes of consistently bullying or simply conceding  build resentment and will ultimately fail.  Learning how to compromise and arrive at win/win resolutions are skills that take effort and practice but, ultimately, are the healthiest way to navigate inevitable clashes in the marriage.

Stress Management Skills  —  Experience and research has demonstrated that poor stress management is often the cause of marital strife.  Developing positive stress management skills can often replace relying on problematic negative ones like the excessive use of alcohol, recreational and prescription drug abuse, affairs, gambling, excessive spending, pornography and so on.

Marriage is a complicated human arrangement which requires effort and can, at times, be very frustrating . As you go through these factors don’t get discouraged. No marriage gets a perfect score. For couples who are experiencing difficulties, however,  keeping these elements in mind can help locate the source of the trouble and suggest what aspect of the relationship needs work.  The good news is that, with a little learning and effort, problems can be overcome and your marriage can become the greatest blessing in your  life.

Rev. Michael Health , LMHC, Fellow AAPC             4 1 2019

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